Thousands of foreign nurses are abandoning Britain to find work abroad

‘It’s no joke that nurse pay in the UK is joint bottom of 35 OECD countries.’

NHS strike

Around 9,000 NHS nurses are leaving the UK each year to work in other countries in search of better paid jobs.

Between 2021-2022 and 2022-2023, the number of UK-registered nurses moving overseas for jobs doubled to a record 12,000. Since before the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of nurses leaving Britain to find work elsewhere has increased fourfold.

The research, carried out by the Health Foundation, found that the majority of nurses quitting the UK are heading to the United States, Australia and New Zealand, where the nursing profession is paid much more generously. Sometimes the salary in these countries is double what UK-registered nurses receive.

The health service is hugely reliant on recruiting nurses from abroad, and the damning findings come as the NHS is already struggling to fill around 40,000 nurse vacancies.

Fears have been made that the UK is acting as a ‘stepping stone’ for many nurses. Elaine Kelly, assistant director at the Health Foundation’s research centre and co-author of the report, said that, with an acute nursing shortage and so many overseas nurses quitting Britain, the NHS needs to be “a more attractive place to work for all nurses, regardless of where they were trained,” if it is to avoid “becoming a stepping stone to careers elsewhere.”

Kelly added that the situation is especially worrying given that it costs the NHS about £10,000 to replace each foreign recruit who moves abroad.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said the rising exodus of overseas-trained nurses is because of the drop of pay in the profession since 2010.

Prof Pat Cullen, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said the situation is “deeply worrying.”

“The recruitment of domestic nurses is collapsing, and services are gripped by workforce shortages.

“With patient needs already going unmet, the prospect of losing more of our international colleagues doesn’t bear thinking about.

“The reality is that sustained attacks on pay and poor working conditions are leaving the UK’s healthcare services unable to compete on the world stage. International nurses, like all nurses, have every right to choose to work in countries that better value their skills and expertise. It’s no joke that nurse pay in the UK is joint bottom of 35 OECD countries.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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